Thursday, 3 August 2017

2 weeks without our helper. Help!

We were help-less for 16 days with our helper on home leave. I preferred that she went home during the school holidays - no routines, no early morning starts. However, she wanted to be there for her kids' year-end celebrations in school.

Previously, she went back during the June holidays and we drew up a chore list from ironing to throwing out the garbage. This time, her absence coincided with common test week and I moderated my expectations of the 4 older girls. As it is, #1 and #2 return home about 9 or 10 pm on most school nights after CCA or night study, and struggle to stay on top of their assignments and revisions.

What I didn't want though, was 6 kids hurling their demands at me. As kids who have grown up with a helper, it wasn't uncommon to hear them call, "Auntie Jane, where's my lunch?"

I get asked a lot, "How many helpers do you have? We only have one and she manages to take an afternoon nap on most days. The hubs and I believe that the kids should do most things on their own, and Kate was able to shower and get ready for school by herself before the age of 3.
My little elf
Setting expectations right. A few days before she left, I sent a text to the older girls. *Reminder: Auntie will be going home from xx to xx. Please wake yourselves up, make your own breakfast and wash your clothes. If you yell for me, I'll pretend not to hear you." I added some cute emojis to lighten the mood.

After making clear that everything was their own responsibility and that things do not happen magically around here, I went around to their rooms and checked what their plans were.

Kids being kids, they came up with creative solutions to do the chores faster. They organised their own laundry system and roped Kate in to be their distribution channel.

#3 asked pleadingly, "But mum, can you prepare breakfast for us? We have a lot of homework and revision and there's no time to make breakfast."

"Ok, but whatever I make, even if it's just bread and butter, I don't want to hear anything else besides "Thanks mum."

"Yay!!"

I'm no gourmet chef and some meals tend to turn out poorly so I had to pre-warn them if not I'll get upset with their attitude after putting a lot of effort into cooking.
Homemade wonton
Motivated Monday: 5.30 am. I was all psyched up, ready to take charge. I don't work on Mondays and dedicated the day to seeing to their meals, doing chores and planning the crazy week ahead. I stuck the daily schedule on the fridge so no kid gets missed out.

5.30 Wake #5, Make Breakfast
5.45 Check if #3 is awake via text
6.00 Prepare lunch box
6.15 Check if #4 is awake via text
7.00 Send #4 to school
7.20 Back home
7.30 Make Kate's Breakfast and lunch box
7.45 Send #2 to bus stop
8.10 Put #1's breakfast on the table
8.15 Send Kate to school
Salad box
Feeling energetic, I whipped up a hearty breakfast for the girls to last them through their exams.

After Kate was nicely tucked in school, I made a huge batch of banana cake with the ripe bananas my mum brought over from her garden. The washing up after was no fun, but the smell of freshly baked banana cake and knowing that the kids look forward to it made it all worthwhile.
Fresh bakes
It turned out to be a fulfilling domestic sort of day and if given a choice, I like life without a helper. Perhaps when Kate grows older.

For dinner, I pulled out whatever I could find in the fridge and whipped up a simple meal. The kids were impressed as I never cook dinner and usually make one dish meals. (Actually, I used the same seasoning and the same pot for all 3 dishes to save washing!)
Dinner time
After dinner team chores. It was #1's turn to do the dishes and she was stunned to see the sink filled to the brim with more plates piled at the side. "All this from one meal? That's so ineffective. We should just buy back." After she was halfway through she suddenly said, "Don't we have a dishwasher? Why aren't we using it?" With our helper around, we hardly used it and have forgotten all about it.

By Day 4, they were all missing Auntie Jane.

They were fortunate enough that our helper had arranged with my sis-in-law's helper next door to wash and iron their uniforms. All they had to do was wash and refill their own water bottles for school, collect and fold their laundry, clear up after meals and do the dishes. The hubs works from home and did the bulk of the chores.

Add a dose of humour. When the clothes were dry, I made an announcement. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls... The clothes are ready to be collected! And pointed to the direction of the backyard with a grand flourish. That lightened the mood and was more effective than nagging.
Count down
Up at 5, out by 8. I began the week too enthusiastically and soon ran out of steam. My priority changed from wholesome meals to fast-to-cook-and-easy-to-wash meals.

Time was precious in the morning, getting 6 kids fed and out the door. Every minute counted.

Breakfast became kaya toast and the kids were quick to chope dinner leftovers. Kate's lunch box was pared down to biscuits and tomatoes, and she packed her own box on busy mornings.

I was pleased that they kept to their word and were appreciative of anything I put on the breakfast counter.
Easy meals
Kate to the rescue. She had the most spare time and willingly helped around the house. Some mornings she was woken up by my alarm clock at 5.30 and since she was already up, she helped to prepare breakfast.

When I came down after showering, I found her in the garden watering the plants, as she had seen our helper doing.
Junior chef
In the evening while I was cooking, she asked me to play. I told her I was busy and asked her to look around and see how she could help out. She spent an hour sweeping the car porch and had the initiative to put the shoes aside before sweeping away all the leaves. She's very meticulous and placed them back neatly in a row.

When her cousin popped by and asked her to play, she said, "Later ok? Auntie Jane is away so I am sweeping up the leaves." Glad she didn't throw the broom on the floor and run off to play!

I praised her and told her what a great little helper she was. She saw me bringing out the dishes and set the table without me asking.
Mini gardener
I was surprised by #5 too. He heard me delegating chores to the older girls and asked if he could help wash the dishes. I must admit that I don't expect much from him compared to the girls. If he can get his school bag and work sorted and filed without his teacher calling me, I'm already a happy mum.

Upon reflection, I realised that those are 2 very separate issues which require different skills, and he did want to make himself useful. In fact, he continued to help with the dishes for several nights when he saw that I was busy.
Enthusiastic helper
I woke up LATE! By Friday, I have been surviving on less than 5 hours of sleep per night and didn't hear the alarm go off. Suddenly I jolted awake!

#5 jumped out of bed, hopped into his uniform, grabbed his bag and ran to the waiting school bus.

I rushed into the kitchen and quickly whipped up banana pancakes for #4 and boiled pasta for her lunchbox. I literally squashed the banana, threw in wheat germ and mixed it vigorously with some milk and plonked them into the pan. They became known as my ugly pancakes but yummy nonetheless! #4 polished them up and said, "Look mum, I used a toothpick to save you washing a fork."

Kate went to her school bag, pulled out her water bottle and lunch box from the day before (thankfully it was empty and clean-ish) and washed them while singing an upbeat song really loudly. At 6.45am.

It was one of those moments when you feel so drained. But seeing them trying to help cheered me up.

Between planning, executing, disciplining the younger ones and counselling the older ones, I was TOTALLY EXHAUSTED.

It is a herculean task to work, put 3 square meals on the table, take care of the kids and keep the house in order.

Those who have been doing this day in day out, seriously, hats off to you. You need to share your tips!

I can get through one more week. Just one more week...


Other lessons (which I've learnt the hard way):

Lesson #15: What are we worth, mums?
Lesson #16: What do you do when you get sick of parenting?
Lesson #17: The tragedy of our society

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